Interview with Nakarin Teerapenun
I was born in 1965 in Betong, which is a district in one of the southernmost provinces of Thailand. My family later moved to Songkhla, a quiet seaside resort town, also in the south, and that’s where I spent my childhood years. During my teens, my parents sent me to school in Bangkok. During school years, I had learning difficulties because I couldn’t spell, and words were confusing and appeared all jumbled up on the pages to me. However, the subjects that I really did well with were art and music. l liked to keep a diary and recorded my experiences and dreams by sketching and drawing, which is why I later decided to study art. Later on, I discovered jazz music and became obsessed with the improvisation aspect of it.
At present, I teach jazz guitar at Silpakorn University, Bangkok. I also have a reggae/ska band called T-Bone. I discovered Street Photography late in 2013, and to my pleasant surprise found that there was a connection and similarities between drawing, playing jazz music and taking street photographs. I simply changed from sketching a picture that comes into my head to recording something that I see on camera, and I improvise just like when I play jazz music. I loved the challenges posed by the unpredictability and element of surprise in Street Photography, and that’s how I caught the street bug.
Ever since I started taking street photos, I find that every place, space or time has something that can be captured. The more I search, the more possibilities I have of finding what I’m searching for. The photos in this selection were taken in Bangkok, Chiangmai and India. These are places that I’m familiar with, but I make a note of going back and trying to see something new in the same old places each time I return. I will sometimes sketch or write down things, subjects, or places that interest me. I note down little details of what I see, for example, a staircase, a corner, the lighting in a particular place, and I will go back to see how else I can capture it in a different way. I have been to Varanasi quite a few times, and each time I go back, I will use notes from my previous trips to see how I can capture images that are different from the ones that I have taken before, or from anyone else’s. I also tend to go for spaces that feel uncomfortable to me; uninviting places, hostile people, smells, these attract me.
When I take photos, I use the same principle as when I’m playing jazz music. Everything happens so fast, especially in Bangkok, so the least I can do is prepare myself well for when it does happen. That means I have to be ready to improvise, just like when I play jazz music. The minute I start walking, I start stalking for that moment, and when it presents itself, I have to be ready. I am given the guitar, the camera, to create something out of that space, and when that right note or subject comes, I’m ready for it. When you improvise in jazz music, you play the same song over and over but always in a different way. It’s the same for me in photography. I take something out of ordinary life, and I do something to it, again and again, until I get something out of it.
There is a quote from Marcel Proust that really resonates with me: “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes and ears”. That is precisely my work principle. When I go to public places, whether I’m just on my way somewhere or going out specifically to take photos, if I see something that interests me I will start with simple questions: What can I do with it? What elements do I want to include in the frame? My goal is to create questions and puzzlement. I try to take photos that evoke a movie scene, and I try to hide little details in them because I don’t like anything that is too obvious. What attracts me are eyes and facial expressions. The eyes convey a lot more than words or actions.
I like taking photographs of things that interest me, not just for the purpose of taking street photos but more like keeping a diary. I try as much as I can to be true to myself and find my own individuality in everything that I do. It’s not an easy thing to do, trying to find my own style, and when it does happen I sometimes don’t even know it. I only realise that I have a certain “style” when other people who’ve seen my work tell me so. To me, I think “what is” is more important than “what should be”.